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As she came down the high steps, she caught sight of her very tall cousin. Whereas her mother and Mae had married men of good old German and Polish stock, the third sister, Sergio's mom Susan, had married Ruben Guerra. Sergio was tall, stockily built, with dark skin and curly black hair, but with striking Germanic facial features and green eyes. He stood looking very solemn, with his arms folded over his chest, until he saw her, then he smiled with relief.

Rushing to him, she knew he would sweep her up and hug her. And he did, crushing her tight, and kissing her cheek. She held tight to him for several seconds, then drew back, trying not to cry her blood tears.

“You okay?” he asked softly, and grabbed up her bag.

“Yeah, I am now. ”

“You're dead, you know,” he whispered. He slung his arm over her shoulder and guided her toward his big Ford truck.

“I saw that in the paper,” Amaliya confessed.

“Gawdawful picture of you,” Sergio mused. “Which I guess is a good thing. No one has recognized you?”

She shook her head and was relieved when he unlocked the truck and opened the door. “Does Grandmama know?”

“No, no. I kept her entertained all evening making an enormous feast for us. I even lied and told her Cynthia and the munchkins might join us,” Sergio said, referring to his wife and children. “Anything to keep her away from the TV until the late shows come on. ” He slammed the door shut once she was inside, cutting the conversation short. He walked around the truck and climbed in on the other side. Starting it up, he said in a low voice, “What happened?”

Amaliya rubbed her face and shook her head. “I don't want to talk about it. I'll just tell Grandmama that I have to go away for awhile and not go into details. ”

“Something really bad happened to you,” Sergio said in a grim voice. He was just a year or two older than her, but his maturity pressed down on her. He had a dad vibe that she didn't know how to take. “I think I deserve to know what. ”

Shrugging slightly, she looked out the window, then decided to tell him the abbreviated truth. “I was attacked. And the person who did it buried me in the forest and I got out. ”

“Shit,” Sergio exclaimed in shock. “Shit! You were buried alive?”

“I went back to the dorm room, packed and left,” she continued, leaving a whole huge chunk of the truth out. Like the fact that she was really dead.

“Does your Dad know?”

“I went straight to him t

o ask him for the truck so I could just disappear for awhile. So, yeah, he knows,” she sighed.

“He didn't give you the truck, huh?”

“Nope. Aunt Mae had to get her two cents in. ”

Sergio shook his head and turned out onto the highway. “I thought it was bad enough when I heard that Pete Talbert had a heart attack, but this beats all. ”

Amaliya quirked an eyebrow. “Pete had a heart attack?”

“Yep. They found him in a hotel room. He was pretty close to death, but he's okay now. At least they think it was a heart attack. Who knows. ” Sergio drove with his arm propped up on the edge of the window, his strong fingers gripping the wheel tightly. “They called Felipe to let him know since they were old buddies since we were all kids. I remember how bad a crush Pete had on you. We used to tease him about it all the time whenever we visited ya'll out there. ”

Amaliya sighed guiltily. “I didn't know. ”

“Enough about Pete. Who the hell attacked you? Did you see them?”

Amaliya thought of the Professor and his charming smile. “Yeah. But I don't want to talk about it. ”

“Amal, seriously, you gotta go to the police. I know you're scared and just want to run away, but you gotta-”

“I can't,” she said firmly. “I can't. Okay?”

Sergio shook his head. “You're so damn bullheaded. ”

“Yeah, so? It's a family trait. ”

With a sharp, nervous laugh, Sergio nodded. “True. True. ”